6 February 2017

Review #584: Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“As mothers and daughters, we are connected with one another. My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true. She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong. She is the beating of my heart. I cannot now imagine a life without her.”

----Kristin Hannah

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the best selling, award-winning author, has penned a terrific and heart rending grandmother-mother-daughter relationship drama in her new book, Before We Visit the Goddess that revolves around three woman bound together by blood yet separated by generation gaps. The author has narrated a longing tale of mistakes, misunderstandings spanning through three generations from Indian to USA reflecting how one mistake of one ambitious woman, who wanted to make a name for her family, cost her only daughter's choices that finally impacted her granddaughter's course of life.


A beautiful powerful new novel from the bestselling award-winning author of Sister of My Heart and The Mistress of Spices about three generations of mothers and daughters who must discover their greatest source of strength in one another a masterful brilliant tale of a family both united and torn apart by ambition and love.

The daughter of a poor baker in rural Bengal India Sabitri yearns to get an education but her family s situation means college is an impossible dream. Then an influential woman from Kolkata takes Sabitri under her wing but her generosity soon proves dangerous after the girl makes a single unforgivable misstep. Years later Sabitri's own daughter Bela haunted by her mother s choices flees abroad with her political refugee lover but the America she finds is vastly different from the country she d imagined. As the marriage crumbles and Bela is forced to forge her own path she unwittingly imprints her own child Tara with indelible lessons about freedom heartbreak and loyalty that will take a lifetime to unravel.

In her latest novel Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explores the complex relation-ships between mothers and daughters and the different kinds of love that bind us across generations. Before We Visit the Goddess captures the gorgeous complexity of these multi-generational and transcontinental bonds sweeping across the twentieth century from the countryside of Bengal India to the streets of Houston Texas an extraordinary journey told through a sparkling symphony of voices.

Sabitri, a young, ambitious yet very poor woman wants to graduate but the financial condition of her sweets-making family speaks otherwise. Luckily, a benevolent yet haughty woman takes pity on such a dedicated young lady and provides her with the financial support to continue her education. But a silly misstep in her new life makes Sabitri pay for it heavily, eventually affecting her daughter, Bela's life, who escapes the wretched life in India along with her love of her life to USA, where the cultural barrier and the changes in her newly wedded husband depresses her and makes her regret her choice of not finishing education. That yet once again effects her daughter, Tara, who follows blindly into the footsteps of her careless mother. Helpless Bela can only seek advice from her mother whom she has never met after leaving USA, and through a letter, and some fragments of memories, the author has portrayed three woman's struggle to find their stand in the society through various socio-political barriers.

The author's writing style is exquisite and eloquent and has laced the story line with so many deep, heart felt emotions that will move the readers for the characters' plight. The narrative is somewhat intellectual, thoughtful and truly authentic and it is told in various person narratives yet from the point of view of the three main characters, so that will let the readers contemplate with their honest voices. The pacing of the book is moderate yet flows calmly midst of deep philosophy about life and the weak bonds of a mother-daughter relationship.

The author characterized the three central characters with honesty and depth that will help the readers to comprehend with the characters' hard choices. The demeanor of Sabitri is inspiring but gradually her mistake haunts her for the rest of her lives and even though she commits a silly error, yet her misery and regret for it would make the readers sympathize for her. Bela and Tara both are somehow crafted as reckless woman, who living in a foreign land, get out of touch from their original roots, yet somehow their plight and fall touch the readers' souls. There are some characters, like Bela's husband could have been developed with much depth, hence the last few chapters might sound very boring or meaningless for the readers.

The author has vividly arrested the importance of blood relationship and how that strong bond of relationship weakened over the ages and near the end, the future of the relationship was hanging by a loose thread. This shifting dynamic is depicted with the raw edges of some painful sentiments that is bound to make the readers feel the sting of it, thus making the story extremely evocative. Although the backdrops aren't that well painted through this story and fails to evoke a sense of the location into the readers' hearts.

In a nutshell, this captivating story is poignant, entertaining and filled with lots of emotions.

Verdict: A satisfying and an enticing read!

Author Info:
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her themes include the Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies. Her works have been translated into 29 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Hindi and Japanese. Divakaruni also writes for children and young adults.Her novels One Amazing Thing, Oleander Girl, Sister of My Heart and Palace of Illusions are currently in the process of being made into movies. http://www.chitradivakaruni.com/books.... Her newest novel is Before We Visit the Goddess (about 3 generations of women-- grandmother, mother and daughter-- who each examine the question "what does it mean to be a successful woman.") Simon & Schuster.
She was born in India and lived there until 1976, at which point she left Calcutta and came to the United States. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall. She briefly lived in Illinois and Ohio, but has spent much of her life in Northern California, which she often writes about. She now lives in Texas, which has found its way into her upcoming book, Before We Visit the Goddess.
Chitra currently teaches in the nationally ranked Creative Writing program at the Univ. of Houston. She serves on the Advisory board of Maitri in the San Francisco Bay Area and Daya in Houston. Both these are organizations that help South Asian or South Asian American women who find themselves in abusive or domestic violence situations. She is also closely involved with Pratham, an organization that helps educate children (especially those living in urban slums) in India.
She has judged several prestigious awards, such as the National Book Award and the PEN Faulkner Award.
Two of her books, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart, have been made into movies by filmmakers Gurinder Chadha and Paul Berges (an English film) and Suhasini Mani Ratnam (a Tamil TV serial) respectively. Her novels One Amazing Thing and Palace of Illusions have currently been optioned for movies. Her book Arranged Marriage has been made into a play and performed in the U.S. and (upcoming, May) in Canada. River of Light, an opera about an Indian woman in a bi-cultural marriage, for which she wrote the libretto, has been performed in Texas and California.
She lives in Houston with her husband Murthy. She has two sons, Anand and Abhay (whose names she has used in her children’s novels).
Visit her here

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